Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Q & A

Acting head in name only!

Q I was asked by my governing body last term to take on the position of acting head after the sudden departure of our previous head, following what appeared to be an acrimonious dispute. I am the senior deputy in a large community comprehensive school; I know the previous head was on a considerably higher salary than mine. However, the governors have said that they have given me the acting head's role as an indication of the value they put on my services, and see no reason to reward me financially. I feel this cannot be right. What should an acting head be paid?

A The governors should have reviewed your pay as an acting head, and they should have done it within four weeks of you taking up duties. Since the STRB report of 1997, the advice to the 'relevant body' is that the pay for acting heads should not be less than the minimum point (for that size of school) that is being paid to the substantive postholder. The usual interpretation of this is that the pay should be on the first point of the head's ISR. Where headteachers have received salaries significantly above those for the size of the school, there could be room for debate about the reasonableness of an offer from the governors.

Anyone receiving an acting 'allowance' is subject to the conditions of employment of that role. Governors should check any local agreements that specify time limits for acting posts. Reference should also be made to the Staffing Regulations Guidance Sections 2.11 onwards. (See ASCL guidance paper 11 for more details). Classroom teachers cannot be required to assume the duties of a headteacher or a deputy.

Online relationship should be off limits

Q Can a teacher chat online with a pupil innocently? I ask as a worried assistant head of a progressive foundation school where ICT plays a very significant role. However, one of my colleagues seems to me to be developing too close a relationship - at least online - with a year 11 girl. I don't think he's doing anything criminal, but he's not being professionally careful enough, in my view.

A Generally a situation in which a teacher chats online with a pupil is best avoided - for both the sake of the teacher and pupil - because the environment cannot be totally secure, safe or controlled. The exception could be a school forum accessed through the school website in which many people can join in the conversation.

The problems with teachers speaking to pupils through the internet are obvious. There is potential for unguarded comments and jokes that misfire, and teachers place themselves at risk of accusations which lead to child protection investigations. Just as teachers are advised not to speak with a pupil alone in a room with the door closed, chatrooms should be avoided.

Some schools have made arrangements for teachers to receive homework and assignments through email and are asked to return comments and assessments directly to the pupils. Only by having in place special arrangements (for instance dedicated email addresses) and policies (such as all correspondence copied to line managers and filed), which teachers, parents and pupils accept, are hazards likely to be avoided. ASCL strongly advises that all organised teacher-pupil communication online be carefully monitored and controlled, if it is to take place at all.

Clear guidance to avoid tripping up on school trips

Q I am a new deputy and have been given the task of overseeing arrangements for school trips. With recent high profile incidents, I am concerned about the chances of difficult or dangerous situations spiraling out of control, and of me being accused of unprofessionalism, or worse. What can I do to reduce chances of a charge of negligence?

A First it should be said that school trips are a valuable and memorable part of school life and if properly planned and risk-assessed, school leaders should be safe. Foremost, the school must have an activity and school trip policy that is known to staff and parents. That policy should be up-to-date and guidelines for leaders, supporting staff, parents and pupils should be clear.

In the unfortunate chance that a mishap should occur, charges of negligence will be easier to refute if the following checklist has been followed.

  • The leader is qualified and/or competent to run the activity at that level. Appropriate and adequate supervision has been provided.

  • All reasonable steps have been taken to ensure the safety of the environment and equipment.

  • The students have been taught about the need for safety and have been warned against foolhardiness in a manner appropriate to their age, intelligence and experience.

  • The group has been systematically prepared for the activities being undertaken, including attention to footwear, clothing and equipment.

  • The activity, and the manner in which it is carried out, is compatible with regular and approved practice in other similar situations.

  • Parents of under-18 year-olds have signed an appropriate consent form.

  • A comprehensive risk assessment has been carried out, documented and communicated to all concerned.

  • Leaders are aware of any special needs within the group and have taken appropriate action to cater for these.

  • Incidents are dealt with without undue delay and in a manner consistent with the organisational guidelines.

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